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Committee Requests Meeting with DIF&W Commissioner in Wake of Report

Courtesy photo
The Allagash, seen in this 2011 production still from Jeff Dobbs' "Over the North of Maine."

Some key state lawmakers say they’re looking for answers from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife following a published story about an undercover poaching sting two years ago in northern Maine.

The Portland Press Herald reported that the sting involved an undercover warden who shot a deer illegally in order to win the trust of a suspected poacher.

According to Portland Press Herald, the sting that went down in the northern town of Allagash was anything but standard operating procedure. Not only did DIF&W cross the line in attempting to entrap some suspected poachers, the newspaper story found that administrators were less than forthcoming when reporters attempted to obtain public records through Freedom of Access requests.

“I think it’s an issue anytime any department shows that kind of predisposition to avoid its responsibility to be accessible to the public and right-to-know matters,” says state Rep. Bob Duchesne, a Hudson Democrat and the House chair of the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

Duchesne and state Sen. Paul Davis, co-chair of the IF&W Committee, say they want to hear the department’s side of the story, and its response to the paper’s allegations that wardens have refused to provide their written policies governing undercover investigations.

The paper also says as part of the Allagash operation, an undercover warden provided guns, ammunition, transportation and a searchlight for a suspected poacher. The paper says the undercover warden even shot a deer to encourage the poacher to take a deer illegally which, if true, concerns Davis.

“To shoot a deer to get somebody else to shoot a deer, well, I don’t like that,” Davis says.

The Press Herald investigation focused on a controversial two-year undercover operation and dramatic raid that resulted in only minor charges against its intended targets and a raft of poaching convictions against one man that the undercover agent had enticed to poach during nine night-hunting outings in the agent’s truck.

The paper was trying to find out what linkage, if any, existed between the sting operation and the filming of the reality television show “North Woods Law,” which focused on Maine Warden Service activities.

But the paper says the department declined to be interviewed and ultimately refused to answer written questions. They say the department also failed to fully comply with a public records request and refused to provide an unredacted copy of their undercover operations policy, even though early versions of the policy have been made public in the past.

Rep. Danny Martin, a former IF&W commissioner and member of the Legislature’s IF&W Committee, said he used to routinely receive Freedom of Access requests from the media as a commissioner.

“Clearly by state statute, we responded to all of them,” Martin said. “I’m sure though that the commissioner’s office or the colonel’s office will respond in due time, I would suspect.”

Davis said that he hopes to meet with the IF&W commissioner as soon as the department head can arrange his schedule.

Late Monday afternoon DIF&W issued a written statement saying that it stands behind the Warden Service investigation.

The newspaper story “makes numerous false claims and attempts to sell readers the impression that conserving Maine’s fish and wildlife is not a priority,” the department’s statement said, “and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is prepared to offer a formal response to the newspaper this week.”